My boys and I have this game. You could call it Extreme Backyard Cardio if you’re a believer in accurate descriptions in titles, but the boys just call it Horsey. Basically, one of them chases me while I run through the yard with the other one riding on my back. Through the trees, around the playhouse, past the chicken coop, across the deck until I decide the ride has lasted long enough and I run back to base where I ease the kid off my back, plunk down, and relish the feeling of the tom-tom drum pounding away in my chest. “You feel that?!” my heart yells at me. “That means you’re alive, motherfucker! You won’t always be, but you are now, so get up!” And so, after I catch enough of my breath, I do. The kids switch places - rider becomes chaser and vice versa - and we do that shit all over again.
And now, friends, let us pause at this paragraph to laugh and mourn at the imperfection that permeates and in part even defines our very humanity. Faulty creatures we are, stumbling through life doing our best to accommodate for our flaws, sometimes even increasing our failures by orders of magnitude even while trying so hard to head them off at the pass.
So Horsey. Whenever my kids ask to play it, my first instinct is self-preservation tinged with laziness. But most of the time, I reverse course and let them have their way. Imagine, if you will, one of those old scales, the two-cupped kind akin to the one that blind Lady Justice uses, but instead of guilt and innocence, this scale balances my children’s weight against my strength and stamina. Right now, while the strength side outweighs the weight side, games like Horsey are entirely possible, even if it grows a little more difficult as the two sides move toward a balance. And one day that balance is going to tip and Horsey will be a thing of our past. So yeah, I acquiesce.
And so it was on a recent summer afternoon. I had my youngest on my back and eldest on my tail. This is by far the more difficult of the two Horsey combinations, for even though my youngest is lighter, his older brother is faster and takes the chasing part of the game much more seriously, which has a way of bringing out my normally latent competitive side. Maybe it’s some hardwired father thing, make him try harder so that his eventual and inevitable victory over me will be truly earned, or something, I don’t know. Anyway, youngest and I are zipping across the yard, between the trees, etc., eldest is right behind us, when I come around the corner between the kid’s playhouse and the chicken’s coop and my foot just … goes out from under me.
That thing you’ve always worried about in the back of your mind, that thing you always feared might happen while playing this game, well, it's happening.
I’m thinking all this as my foot skids across a loose patch of earth and I make the involuntary transition from vertical to horizontal, all while my son clings to my back. I try to adjust myself as I fall so as to shield him from the worst of it, and I succeed in part, but his head still makes contact with the hardware cloth that covers the open part of the chicken’s run. I turn over in a panic and examine him. He’s got several little cuts on the side of his face, but he seems calm, isn’t screaming or crying or yowling in pain, that is, until the shock of the fall wears off and he realizes that he might have blood coming out of his face, which he does, just a little. I carry him inside, he screams the whole way, I try to calm him to no avail, silently cursing myself for taking that turn too fast and trying not to imagine how much worse it could have been.
His mom and I get him patched up, and pretty soon, it’s as if it never happened, aside from the bandages on the side of his face. And, of course, the shitty feeling that, accident or not, I was the cause of this injury.
Imperfect creatures. Clumsy too.
As bedtime nears, the kid’s chomping on a slice of watermelon. He’d probably eat a whole one if we let him. As I walk past him, I hear him singing a song to himself, which is not unusual. But the lyrics catch my attention. I ask him to sing it again. He gets that impish grin on his face and sings...
“Dee dee dee, doo doo doo, we're gonna make a mess to show Daddy.”
I guess his brains didn’t get rattled too bad.